The “New Atheists” – people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and of late, Christopher Hitchens – have been making the news now for a couple of years, as their books promoting their strain of anti-theism can be found on endcap displays and best-seller lists everywhere. While some of you who are arguably wiser than myself may not be familiar with these guys, I’m sure many of you are. I started paying attention to them initially due to my old friend Mike who, when we reconnected after many years, advised me that he had become an atheist. I’ve never been big on apologetics, but found some of the debates – much of which involved the creation-evolution issue – somewhat stimulating. However, I think that the term “New Atheists” should be changed to “Inane Atheists.” While some of them at times can sound wise and philosophical (apparently, at least, to other atheists) the majority of their arguments have proven to be little more than atheistic bedtime stories, concocted to provide the same type of comfort they charge religions with fabricating.
The Preacher of Ecclesiastes is correct: There is nothing new under the sun. While the packaging has changed, there is nothing new about the disbelief in God, and the Biblical advice on the subject is still sound. The Psalmist is on point as is Paul. Today, atheism, the belief that there is no god of any kind, also includes the belief that nothing supernatural or non-material exists. This, of course, describes a lack of belief, or a negative belief, if you will. The positive – what they do believe – would be called philosophical materialism, or sometimes naturalism. As I’ve described before many times, materialists are merely myopic; they have chosen to believe only in what they think has physical properties. Atheism is, in many ways, epitomized by the Golden Calf, and yes, it is a form of idolatry, exchanging the worship of the Creator for the worship of the creation. I’m sure the argument would be made that they do not worship anything, but of course that is foolishness as well; the natural processes of the universe and reason itself are put in the place of God.
If anything is new about today’s atheists, it is that they are moderns (as are we all in the West). As I’ve set forth in my Teacup Analogy, their arguments (for example, lately I’ve read a ridiculous series of posts trying to apply IDQ principles to Christianity and the Bible) must be brought completely within modernism in order to function. If you hold to a philosophy that is skeptical of their epistemology, they sound quite ridiculous. They succeed only when they manage to trap some poor soul into adopting their presuppositions; as we in the West are all moderns to a degree, it is occasionally possible to suck some unsuspecting Christian into believing that Christianity is properly understood only within a modern context. John Loftus, at Debunking Christianity, is at least honest about that point when he says that modernism is the Achilles’ Heel of Christianity. Of course, John presumes modernism, and at least to my knowledge he hasn’t presented any argument for why modernism is the only true philosophical position; his point is that modernism and Christianity are incompatible, and that if you adopt a purely modernist worldview, Christianity will be undone.
However, as Alister McGrath has written (“I Believe” – Exploring the Apostles Creed, pp 26):
Reason runs into difficulties when trying to cope with God. Alfred, Lord Tennyson made this point perfectly in his poem “The Ancient Sage”:
For nothing worthy proving can be proven,
Nor yet disproven.
Belief in God, it need hardly be added, rests on solid foundations- even if paradoxically, as Tennyson suggests, it cannot be proved. Atheists and Christians alike take their positions as matters of faith. The former may like to try and represent their position as objective and scientific, but it is actually nothing of the sort.
Modern atheists, of course, will see this thinking as malarkey, as it is an argument based outside of the modernist teacup, or at least removes the argument from the materialist epistemology that they rely on. The “New” Atheists cannot seem to function outside of modernism or outside of materialism, because that simply is the box in which they have put themselves in. To interact with them on any meaningful way, you have to get in their box (or teacup).
And why would I want to do that?
You see, I’ve encountered God. It’s not just that I’ve had some spiritual experience, but that I know and have relationship with God. A modern atheist will, of course, toss this in the pile of non-observable claims and demand “evidence.” However, this presumes a Kantian or Platonic kind of dualism, which is certainly not a given. Classifying God and all experiences of God into the large category of Noumena in order to dismiss it entirely is, I think, to commit serious philosophical error; but for one who is committed to atheism, it is convenient, pragmatic error. Again, it requires a commitment to stay within the modernist teacup and to close your eyes should you ever attempt to look over the rim.
Modern atheists, however, are almost always not committed to requiring objective evidence in all areas of their lives; if they did, they would become “Spock”-like in their assessment of everything, including politics and relationships. Love would cease to be a many-splendored thing, and family life would have to be based on pragmatism rather than any emotional bond. It is contradictory for a materialist to claim “I know that I love my wife,” for he can know nothing of the kind; it is simply an unprovable claim by his own standards. However, materialism becomes essential when fending off any claims of God (although it has been shown many times how internally inconsistent these arguments against God are).
Operating from a more consistent approach in which you accept that there are ways of knowing that are not limited to that which is observable and measurable – that is, living outside of the teacup and taking in the banquet that surrounds it – we can look to the arguments, claims, challenges and ridicule of modern atheism and see how inane they really are. While I believe it is possible to climb in the teacup and expose the errors from within modernism, for the Christian to “prove” his own faith, it is simply not necessary.